Archive for the 'Teacher Education' Category

Wearing My Team Jersey: It’s the People, Not the Program

football-1206741_960_720By Peggy Wuenstel

There is a constant drive in education to find the magic bullet, the secret recipe, the cutting edge approach that will magically turn a failing school into a flourishing one. Just like the late night commercials that advertise miracle weight loss solutions, I believe that if there were a magic formula for either, we would all be using them. What I have also come to understand is that it is the people, not the programs that make schools work. I have been blessed to work in one of those places where the team truly comes together. The team jersey I wear as a Washington Golden Eagle is the next of those things that I know I’ve got before they’re gone. People often ask me: “What makes your school different?” After all these years it has become evident to me. It is the teaching team with which I suit up for the work of guiding children every day.

There are two other elementary schools in my district. One is much smaller, with a much more homogeneous student population and laudable student performance measures. The other is very similar to my place of employment, with similar enrollment, demographics, challenges, and surrounding community. Where we differ most is in the longevity of the “team” in place and in the consistency of the instructional approaches in play in the two schools. In an effort to raise student performance measures, the dedicated staff of that building has gone through many incarnations, including an inquiry-based charter, and a new foray into a reading program that is much more structured than the one in use in my school. I wish them well in their quest to improve student learning, but am grateful that our building focus has remained on the people vs. the implementation of programs. We’ve had little staff turnover in my 15 years here, and many of our new “draft choices” have been transfers from within the district. These are teachers with which we had already established working relationships.

I work with educators who have already made the mindset shift to the absolute necessity of individualizing instruction. What happens when a child fails to learn here is not seen as a lack within the child, but within the range of approaches that we have attempted thus far. Resource and child assistance teams are not just the doorway to referral services (guidance, tutoring, reading or math interventions, or special education) but a way to problem-solve and enhance universal classroom instruction. Lack of benchmark attainment does not mean NOT, it simply means NOT YET. Our building goals have consistently targeted our highest need populations through good instruction and appropriate small group interventions. When teachers are committed to assisting children with performance gaps, instruction improves for all students because it is systematic, purposeful, and directly tied to assessment.

The environment is highly inclusive at Washington Elementary. Students with challenges (English Language Learners, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, children who have experienced childhood trauma) are fully integrated into classrooms. The techniques and supports in place to aid these students in meeting grade level expectations improve classroom climate and create access to learning for all. We have moved past the point of accommodating differences to valuing and celebrating the diversity that our students bring to their classes.

We have had the luxury of administration at the Board of Education, superintendent, and principal levels that understands that this willingness to take responsibility for enhanced classroom learning requires quality professional development along with the time and support to implement it effectively. It also necessitates the planning for assessment of its effectiveness, and the need for tweaks, additions, and deletions over time, and modifications when incorporated by different staff members. If we want custom-fit garments, we have to be willing to pay the tailor or the seamstress.

Another key piece is the continual improvement mindset we have adopted for ourselves and others. Getting better is what the process of education is all about, and we must be models of that for our students. Where we often differ is in how best to document that growth and forward movement. How delightful it is when it is evident in the accomplishments of our students and the pride of the community we serve!

My fellow teachers have also demonstrated their willingness to choose strategies for their efficacy for students and alignment with classroom practice, district vision and standards rather than for convenience or ease of implementation. The art of teaching still lies within our ability to make those good instructional decisions. The best way to know that a program is not for me is when the sales rep tells me, “It’s so easy to use that you don’t even have to think about it.” I always used to say that when I got to that point it would be time to retire. I’m delighted to say that I’m ready to retire and still actively thinking about what I present to students each day.

My principal is also our district’s head football coach, and sometimes he can overdo the sports references. We tend to prefer the family metaphor to the team moniker. It’s more like wearing the t-shirt at the family reunion than suiting up for the big game. It’s not as much about the competition and winning, or even about getting better, harder, faster or stronger. It’s about being a contributing member of the team, and knowing your role in the play we’ve called for the day. I’ve earned my team jersey. I wear it with pride, and I’m definitely packing it for the next leg of my journey.



Riding in My Big Yellow Taxi

old_checker_cabBy Peggy Wuenstel

Joni Mitchell’s iconic song Big Yellow Taxi holds special meaning for me, especially this year. In addition to being that rarity, a song that has an excellent remake courtesy Counting Crows, it is a reminder to take stock of all those things we value. Contrary to the famous line, I do know what I’ve got before it’s gone. The beauty of planning ahead for retirement, promotion, or a job change is that the “going” is far enough away that you can reflect on what you have. This is it, the last 189.5 days of my full-time teaching life. (And 40 of them are already behind me at this posting.) It is the countdown of “last experiences,” back-to-school open house, Christmas program, report cards, snow day, etc. The vast majority of those things are not the ones I will happy to see go, but the things I am so grateful to have been a part of.

In this last year of blogging for the Marquette Educator, something else I will deeply miss, I plan to visit all of those treasures I know I have today. Some I’ll leave behind. Some I’ll pass on to others. Some I will never be able to part with and some are so much a part of me that I wouldn’t be able to extricate them if I tried.  My teaching team, the memories I will take with me as I leave the classroom, the daily positivity that surrounds a successful elementary school all made the list. I have made a promise to myself not to let remembering the past or planning for the future diminish my pleasure or purpose in completing this last year.

I’ve already begun tossing the old, the dated worksheets, the books that don’t inspire, the programs and materials that do not align with the research or contribute to best practices. This process is actually long overdue. In this digital age we teach differently than we have in the past, keeping things in computer files rather than hard copy. This winnowing requires examining the reasons why we are holding on to our” treasures.” Someone put in a lot of time and effort to make these materials. We had such fun when we taught this unit. We have always done it this way; it’s tradition.

I am also mindful and grateful that I have the opportunity to retire. Many of my students’ families may never have that opportunity.  Company loyalty, hiring and firing practices, maximizing profits and shareholder dividends all limit an employee’s options in remaining in an organization or career. Relocation for the job of a spouse, need to return to care for an ailing or aging parent or support a child for whom economic opportunity has not yet arrived also limit our chances for stability and advancement.

Longevity at a job is not always considered a plus on a résumé. My job has allowed me the freedom to grow, change settings, and feel that I make a difference in the same place and with the same extraordinary team (more about that next month). Many people in our society have no such opportunities. Isn’t this the primary role of education: creating in our students the set of skills and attitudes that prepare them for a successful future. That has been harder to envision in recent years. Even in these times when our teacher benefits and compensation are both reduced and uncertain, I am grateful that my situation allows for retirement.

I am working under a new superintendent this year, part of  the revolving door status quo in Wisconsin schools as school leaders relocate every few years as their jobs are less stable or satisfying than in my first years in education. These conditions make educators uncertain of district commitment to teacher benefits and alter labor relations. This will be the 5th administrator I have worked under in my 15-year tenure in my district.

I have remained in Whitewater twice as long as anywhere else  I have worked in my 34-year career because this district allowed me the opportunity for continual growth and reinvention. I worked part-time in between full-time bookends at the beginning and end of my career here. I explored opportunities with UW-Whitewater,Wisconsin’s DPI, and the Whitewater community. I had many chances and myriad encouragements to lead at the program, school, district, and state level. I always had the personal sense of moving forward, while many aspects of education (funding, public support, legislative decisions) seemed to be moving backward.

On my bulletin board (another future post) there is a reminder: “If you don’t like the direction of the wind, you can always adjust the sails.” I have been distressed about many of the directions that education has taken in Wisconsin in recent years, and it’s time to let someone else take the tack so that I can sail in calmer waters, enjoy the scenery, and slow the pace. Let the adventure begin, my big yellow taxi is waiting at the dock.


Get Involved: From Milwaukee to Cape Town

By Charlotte Adnams

Something that I really appreciate about Marquette’s College of Education is the immediate immersion into the elementary, middle, or high school settings. Throughout these couple years, I have been able to work with students of different age groups, diverse needs, and school districts across Milwaukee. Because of these experiences of working with different students, it has encouraged me to become more involved and exploring of other volunteer opportunities where I can work with students.

1 There are so many groups across Marquette’s campus that focus on volunteering and mentor programs. Whether it be working on math with high school students during the week, or doing arts and crafts with young 1st and 2nd graders, there are many opportunities to get learn more from the students across Milwaukee’s schools. To find a program or organization that best suits you, the Marquette Involvement page is helpful or check the bulletins with bright, numerous postings throughout Schroeder Complex.

2 Start your own group! Each Friday at the beginning of my college career was spent among dozens of 1st-4th grade students at an inner city elementary school. At the after school program I mentored various young students while we completed an art activity. All of this was possible because a group of passionate Marquette students formed the group just a few years before. Grab a few other friends and start something you think can make a difference (hint: you can do something great and you will make a difference!).

3 Embark on an opportunity that takes you somewhere new, boosting your skills and understanding of the importance of educational diversity. One opportunity is the Marquette Action Program (M.A.P.) where Marquette students venture across the country during Spring Break learning and acting upon justice issues, one of the many including education.

Another is a program that I came across at the end of my sophomore year from a COED newsletter. One Heart Source (OHS) has “designed and operated volunteer programs for university students who seek to broaden their context of humanity and the world through results-oriented service learning.” The experience I had with One Heart Source in Cape Town, South Africa was completely unique, empowering, and honestly life changing. I was able to mentor a student individually and in small groups throughout the time that I was there, and then engage in dialogue with fellow OHS members and leaders. I highly encourage this experience, and taking a peak around their website).

Photo from One Heart Source

Expanding our education opportunities can be so beneficial and can broaden our experience diversities, so get out there and explore the many options across Milwaukee (and the world)!

I Applied to TFA…and Got Rejected

Teach-For-America-Logo.pngBy Amanda Szramiak – I know what you’re thinking. I’m writing for the Marquette University Educator Blog, and I applied for Teach for America. I’m a disgrace. A teacher failure. Before you make your judgments, let me explain my thought process.

I too, struggle with Teach for America as an organization. A program that allows anyone to be the teacher in a classroom? I don’t think so. I’ve spent the past five years preparing to be an effective educator. My coursework coupled with over two hundred hours in an actual classroom have prepared me to successfully teach…or so I thought.

During my inquiry in contemporary issues course last semester, we had to research a topic in education and write an op-ed about our opinion of the topic. I decided I would research Teach for America because I felt so passionately about it being an insult to teachers. I thought this would be an easy topic to research and discuss because I knew I was against it. Well, my research and a few conversations with a fellow MU education student made me rethink my adamant opinions.

A dear friend and colleague of mine (who attends Marquette and is currently student teaching) applied and received a Teach for America position last semester. We were having a conversation about our research topics, and I told her all about my woes with Teach for America. Ironically, she told me she just accepted a position with them. Embarrassed of voicing my opinions thinking hers, as a fellow educator, would be the same, I asked her why she decided to join TFA when she could more than likely get any job teaching without the organization. She explained the struggles she faced when applying for TFA, which resembled mine. We discussed her TFA plans, and once I heard them, I knew it was going to be hard to be so against the program like I once was.

Like all research, you learn a lot. Once my research was done and I had to write my op-ed about the program, I was stuck. While I don’t agree with the fact that a TFA teacher receives six weeks of training, there were some aspects that were appealing to me. I could teach full time while simultaneously getting my master’s degree. Their core values of closing the achievement gap by providing educational equality completely align with my opinions on education. Not all those applying to TFA have the background I do, so I really would “Be the Difference” in the program. I decided the pros in applying outweighed the cons so I started my application.

I became so immensely excited about all the things TFA could bring to me. I know I want to teach in an urban setting, but I want to get out of the Midwest. With TFA, that could easily happen. TFA and their relationships with master programs could help me narrow down what I want to specialize in. When you apply for something, you become invested in it, and I became excited about being a Teach for America teacher.

Once the application part was over, I was invited to a phone interview. It seemed to go well despite the awkward interruptions of being on the phone and not seeing the other person. I had to wait a week to see if I was invited to a final interview, which I unfortunately was not.

Getting an email saying that I was not cut out to be a TFA teacher was definitely hard to swallow. I began to question myself not only as an applicant but also as a teacher. Even though I used to be strongly against TFA as an educator, it was difficult to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be one. I eventually realized the competiveness of the program, and I decided to not let it affect my ability to teach. I still want to be a teacher and provide excellent education for all, and my rejection from TFA only strengthened my desire to do so.

Teacher: An Acrostic Poem for Studying

204073798_14109a55b3By Aubrey Murtha – I’ve been learning a crazy amount of material in my Literacy in the Content Areas and Exceptional Needs classes this semester at Marquette, and as a way for me to review the major concepts I’ve come across thus far, I am writing you a poem.

That’s right. Grab your Kleenex because you’re about to be swept away by my inspirational poetic genius. Ha!

So, are acrostic poems considered the highest form of poetry? Yes? Alright, then that is what I will compose. Buckle your seat belts, kids, because this is about to be profound:


“T.E.A.C.H.E.R.: An Acrostic Poem”

T: Teaches students to make real-life connections. After all, what is the use of writing a proof or analyzing Hamlet if students are unable to see how such exercises will benefit them in the long run.

E: Engages students using differentiated instruction.

A: Assesses fairly.

C: Chooses challenging texts for students to read in order to A.) promote literacy through the development of active reading strategies and  B.) help students to better understand the nuances of the content area lesson.

H: Has heart. A teacher is passionate about what he or she does. If you are not demonstrating enthusiasm for your job, you should reconsider your profession.

E: Encourages students to be responsible for their own education by creating a classroom environment in which the students can be teachers, too

R: Reassures students, praises them appropriately when they demonstrate progress or insight, recognizes their potential, and assures them that they can reach that potential.

Why I Love the College of Ed

616517482f8b4b61bb5191a369a52166By Aubrey Murtha – My decision to become a teacher has been, without a doubt, one of the single best decisions I have ever made.  I wholeheartedly believe that teachers are the reason that we are students here at Marquette University; sometime during our youth, some teacher encouraged us to reach for the stars, to recognize our full academic potential, and to explore avenues of intellectual and personal discovery that ultimately propelled us to excel in ways we never imagined possible.  One of our teachers told us we could, and so we did.  And now, we are here studying at this amazing academic institution.

I want to that be that person in a young adult’s life.  So, three years ago, I decided to pursue degrees in secondary education and writing intensive English here at Marquette University.  My main home on campus is the College of Education, located over in good old Schroeder.  Since my first class in the College of Ed, Introduction to Education in Diverse Society with Professor Miller, I have felt the profound connection that my professors have with their subjects.  It takes a very passionate human being to teach young people how to be successful, motivated and effective teachers for Milwaukee’s inner-city youth, and the faculty and staff in the College of Ed have been nothing short of fully invested in our growth and development as blooming new teachers.

In conjunction with these meaningful classroom experiences at Marquette, each one of us teachers-in-training gets several opportunities to complete semester-long service learning experiences, field placements, and eventually, a semester-long student-teaching assignment.  For me, these professional experiences outside of the Marquette community have been invaluable.  Not only have I had the chance to learn from teachers who are effectively teaching groups of students in Milwaukee schools, but I have also been able to develop skills that will enable me to be successful at my student-teaching placement senior year and in the work force following my time here at Marquette.  I am very grateful for the relationships I have made with my students and cooperating teachers and the opportunities I have had to experience different learning environments throughout the city of Milwaukee.

So, I guess this is a thank you.  A thank you to the College of Education at Marquette, to my intelligent professors, to my talented and enthusiastic classmates, to the interesting and dynamic cooperating teachers with whom I have had the privilege of working, and to the sassy 17-year-old reason that I am doing this job–my current crop of students.   I cannot wait to see where this goes, and I am so confident that the College of Education will make sure that I am ready to mold young minds and change young lives.

I am a Marquette Education major.  I am Marquette.

For Now: Interviews with Marquette COED Students

_9596765_origBy Noel Hincha – A month and a half – almost two – flows by; it’s filled with exams, studying, socializing, and exploration. A first-year student walks about campus, her face burrowed in her book, trying to finish the last chapter of a reading assignment. A million thoughts compete for prominence amongst her daily tasks and schedule: What am I doing? Another first-year student strolls through the AMU, his face slightly sweaty and residue of crafts stuck to his shirt. A smile beams from his face, and his friends question the tape and glue adhered to his clothing; he just came back from service learning.

Students weave in and out of sidewalks, classrooms, dorms, and each other. Now, they are students. In a few years, they will be the new generation of gifted teachers weaving in and out of students, hallways, and their own classroom. For now…


Lupe Serna: Elementary Education and Spanish Major, Bilingual/Bicultural Minor

Why or what made you pursue teaching?

I want to help people and I love children, so I want to interact with children and show them – especially minorities – that they have the potential to succeed academically and outside the classroom. I’ve had good teachers that believed in me, that helped me excel and succeed as a student. My personal ambition and good teachers influenced me to pursue teaching.

How do you think Marquette will prepare you?

I think the Marquette education program prepares students well by allowing them to experience hands-on teaching as soon as freshman year. It exposes them to different classroom experiences and gives them an idea of what they will potentially encounter in the future. I think this helps students better prepare for their career. In essence, it gives us an opportunity to put into practice what we learned in the classroom.

What are you most excited about?

I am excited about spending time with kids, getting to know them, and showing them different skills that can help them in the future as well as help them realize their potential as a student. I also look forward to challenging them so that they can be open to new opportunities and different ways of thinking.

What do you think will be some obstacles?

It’s hard to think of any obstacles, but I think it will be difficult for me to teach students who don’t demonstrate a desire to learn; it’s not their fault, but it will still be hard for me to look past that trait and realize or sympathize.

Angel Fajardo: Secondary Education Major

Why or what made you pursue teaching?

What made me pursue teaching? It was a factor of a lot of things, but three in particular stand out. The one that planted the seed: I used to watch a movie called Stand and Deliver, it is about a teacher who leads a class of underperforming Latino students in Los Angeles to pass the AP Calculus exam – it always has a soft spot in my heart, and there’s a character named Angel in it; I wanted to be that teacher, the Edward James Olmos who could take hidden talents of his class and bring them to light. The second factor was during middle school when a substitute teacher came in, and I –a middle school, MPS kid – became a smartass, correcting the teacher. She told me, frustrated, “If you’re so great, why don’t you teach the class.” So I did, as well as a weeklong detention. The most influential moment, however, was during a weeklong community service by the seniors of my high school. My site was at an elementary school, and the kids and I took to each other immediately – I realized I could do this for the rest of my life.

How do you think Marquette will prepare you?

Quite a few of my previous teachers were Marquette alumni, and each had a unique way of teaching. They had high expectations yet were personable and inspirational, trying to shape me into the student I knew I could be – they weren’t just looking for a paycheck. I think this is how Marquette will prepare me; any college can teach someone the material, but Marquette is going to teach me not only what to teach, but how to teach.

What are you most excited about?

A student’s gratitude is probably what motivates me the most; success is relative. I am most excited for the moment a child looks at me, and says that I made a change in their life.

What do you think will be some obstacles?

I am my own worst enemy. I procrastinate more than I can afford and beat myself up when I know I have not performed my best. On top of that, not every student is going to accept me, despite my best interests; that rejection is probably going to hurt more than any circumstantial situation I could find myself in.

Emma Nitschke : Secondary Education and French Major

Why or what made you pursue teaching?

The reason I’m pursuing teaching is for the interest I have in the material and for the joy of teaching. I wanted to pursue French and have always been fascinated in languages; I figured if I loved it so much, I would probably enjoy sharing that learning with my students. As a Christian Formation teacher, I found interacting with students to be refreshing, and it would be different every day. I like the idea that I can help young people learn skills, potentially develop fluency, and help them become more aware of the world around them.

How do you think Marquette will prepare you?

I think Marquette will prepare me in depth and breadth of experiences it offers me. First, all my teaching courses will teach me how to be an effective and caring teacher by discussing theory of education and strategies to implement in planning curriculum and maintaining control in a classroom. My French major will allow me to deepen my knowledge on the subject so that I am qualified to teach it. Finally, service learning will allow me to remember social justice and implement it in my instruction. Student teaching will be the dress rehearsal, introducing me to the life of a teacher.

What are you most excited about?

The thing I’m most excited about is getting to know my students – seeing new faces, personalities, skills, and lives. Further, developing a positive relationship with my students and developing a rapport in the classroom will be an interesting journey to undertake each year.

What do you think will be some obstacles?

I expect there to be obstacles in education, like there are in everything else. I worry that my students won’t like me, that they may disrespect me, that they won’t understand my explanations, that they’ll hate my projects, that they’ll refuse to do homework. Teaching, as a career, can be easily overwhelming and consuming. There is also a fear of unemployment, especially for my intended path. In the past, public schools cut French languages out of their programs in favor of Spanish and Chinese. Also, unfortunately, in America, we don’t value education and teachers aren’t paid as much as other jobs. Even through all these doubts, I still choose to major in education and French; my desire to be a French teacher, to be called Madame and make high schoolers sing songs about verbs, is louder than these doubts.


For now, they are college students; their days are counted by exams, homework, late nights, and community. For now, they are young adults; their dreams are made through inspiration, determination, and a little leap of faith. For now.

What is a Marquette Educator?

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